A personal guide to surviving startup growth


6 years ago

I am going to share with you a secret that Platzi learned at Y Combinator: all startups are chaotic shitshows. It may sound awful or terrifying at first, but I firmly believe it is actually an opportunity for us to grow into our best selves.

In practice, this means following a parallel journey. Just like our task in life is to grow, our startups are meant to accelerate and aim for maximum impact with a shared goal: make the impossible possible and create a better world.

While this is great, the reality of making it happen is anything but glamorous. As you may have experienced first-hand, working at a startup that is going through growth stage means facing a constant stream of problems we don’t really know how to deal with.

We can’t control every situation; however, we can take actions that will help us control our own reactions. The most important thing here is to avoid some of the automatic responses most people have under pressure. When facing complexity, they may for instance let anger take over and blame others without taking any responsibility for their own mistakes.

#Prepare for shitstorm

The truth is, we have all been there at least once; the kind of problems we have to deal with when our startup is growing may bring out our worst side, one we didn’t even suspect, and one that can get us into deep trouble.

I know you are nodding, so please allow me to talk to you as a friend: if you get paralyzed at problems hoping they will disappear as if by magic, soon enough you will be neck deep in shit… and then you really can’t move, because if it makes waves you’re over! This brings me to something friend of mine constantly reminds me of: “I shall prepare for shit in advance, so I don’t eat any."

I also want to insist on the importance of a positive mindset: it will help you find your way out when your worst case scenario becomes a reality (and chances are it will be worse than you had anticipated). The point of getting ready is not to have all the answers; it is about being prepared to come up with the kind of unique solutions that complex problems require from us.

#Everything can be figured out, and 12 other tips

Fixing things to your advantage goes beyond fortune cookie wisdom to “hope for the best prepare for the worst.” To make your vision a reality, you will have to hustle and turn things around. Here are a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help you along the way:

  • First and foremost: be honest to yourself and others. I know, more often than not we want to keep everyone happy, and we tend to assume that staying quiet is the best way to be at peace. Well, this is not true: there are important things that we need to have the courage to say, the sooner the better (of course in the right tone, at the right time and breathing deep).

  • Go from blamer to fixer. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is: just FIX IT! Complaining is a waste of time, and you could have used that time to become the solution, which would also make you much more valuable for your startup.

  • Weigh your decisions and move forward. Every decision we make contributes to shaping our future. What’s a good way to make better choices? Decision trees are a pretty effective tool to think about potential consequences: take any choice and figure out 3 outcomes it may have. If it doesn’t fit your long-term goals, listen to your inner wisdom and ignore that part of you that may want to rush into wrong choices. Take care of the path you’re following.

  • Keep on asking… but only useful questions. As difficulties loom we tend to ask ourselves: “Why me? What happened? Why now? Whose fault is it?” These questions are not helpful, because they focus on the past instead of looking for solutions, whereas good questions drive us into action. Here are some examples:”What good can I take from here?” “What’s next? Where do I want this situation to take me?” “What kind of person am I becoming? Is this what I really want? If not, what is my true desire outcome?”

  • Find your own supports and make the most of them. I’ve being practicing yoga for over 16 years and teaching it for 4, and yet the routine that has helped me the most is a prop-heavy practice called “a chair for yoga”. It is something you need to keep in mind when you see pictures of crazy yoga postures: these people didn’t get there overnight. In my experience, getting support during my practice has accelerated my way into more advanced postures in a healthy, mindful way. There’s a lesson here that fully applies to the world of startups: not only should you take advantage of the supports you find along the way, but you should also seek your own, such as a mentor. Either way, be prepared to seize opportunities; as one of my mottos goes, anything has the potential to become an effective aid.

  • If you get stuck, get into your body. Whenever things start to look bleak, engaging in a physical activity can be your best route to activate a diffuse mode in your brain and find space for answers to come. The body is always a blessing, because it is the vehicle by which we can move, express our essence and do good at any scale. Trust me: while writing this article I rode 18 miles on my bike, did 20 chaturangas at my yoga practice and 10 minutes towards my #plankchallenge; it stopped me from procrastinating, got me into action and cleared my ideas.

  • Give time to time. Once you have put tons of effort and time towards your desired outcome, please give time to time. This is a huge lesson I learned from my fellow Mexican co-workers and their amazing country, in which “right away” can take two minutes or two days. Sometimes when you push too hard, things end up breaking or simply not working. You need to let go and give the situation the time and space it needs to evolve and blossom. It’s about trust, confidence and getting into flow. In nature, you don’t stare at plants until they give you fruits, and the same goes here: breathe deeply, step back and wait for your hard work to pay off.

  • Recognize your own value. No matter what happens and regardless of the outcome, take some time away from the madness to have a positive self-talk about yourself and appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Your self esteem is non-negotiable… it’s actually your most important asset.

  • Follow the 1-5 law. For each downer or negative outcome, do 5 positive things. You may have spilled someone’s coffee, said mean things to a coworker at a stressful time, or taken a bad decision for yourself. Please get off the self-blame route, it’s useless and worthless. Instead, do 5 good actions; random acts of kindness can have a huge impact and dissolve any discomfort from making unintentional mistakes.

  • Feel at peace with your decisions. Define your own value scale, pick up the things you’ll say yes to, but most importantly: watch out for things that are not contributing to your best self and just say NO! This may mean changing your habits and saying goodbye to toxic friends; instead, give consistency to developing your passion. Every step towards becoming the person you dream of being will make you happier.

  • Be ready for life’s double check. Once you’ve overcome an obstacle, avoid repeating the same mistake. Life tends to do a double-check on us to make sure we learned our lesson. Don’t act from the automatic part in you, you’re better than that. Capitalize on your previous experience, be fully present and keep a cool head.

  • Acknowledge it’s personal. The ability to solve problems and survive the turmoil of growth stage goes beyond the business you’re working on; it is about your life, which is your most important asset. If you ever feel lost, desperate or lonely while crafting the impossible, your best option might be to take a different path; prepare for this by being eager to grow, evolve and change your mind if needed.

Wherever you are on your journey, always remember to breathe, smile and keep moving forward with your head up high. Better said than done? The hardest step is the first one, so try at least one of this strategies this week, and let me know how it goes in the comments.



6 years ago

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80-90% of startups fail. Not a good taxpayer investment.
Startups need to go to venture capitalists, not come to the feds just because they claim that they working on innovation for coronavirus. It could be a 100% bust with taxpayers being stuck with losses while sharing in none of the gains.